Environmental responsibility

Awareness of environmental impacts that accompany mining and processing activities has increased significantly over the last decades. Environmental responsibility and the social licence to operate are closely related topics, as the influence of mining on water, air, soil and biodiversity is often a matter of dispute with local communities. Preventing, mitigating and rectifying the adverse impacts of mining on the environment are therefore key tasks for the sector.

The first step for companies to meet their environmental responsibilities is for all stakeholders to know and understand company impacts on the ecosystems in which they operate, and how these impacts affect local populations.

The ICMM’s Good Practice Guide on Mining and Biodiversity provides orientation for improving biodiversity management throughout the mining cycle, with special emphasis on collaborating with biodiversity specialists.

The NRGI has developed a Tools Explorer for finding tools to measure in economic terms (valuation) the costs of social and environmental impacts. This knowledge can make it easier for governments, companies and communities to define mitigation and remediation measures.

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The guide Extracting Good Practices published by UNDP and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency provides a comprehensive set of recommendations, resources and practical examples for integrating environmental and human rights protection into the governance of the mining sector. Step 1 focusses on adequate regulations and institutions, step 2 addresses integrated and participatory Land Use Planning, and steps 3 – 8 focus on each phase of the mining cycle from exploration to post-closure.

Unfold to find out more about key issues for strengthening environmental responsibility in the mining industry.

Land use

Mineral resources may be located beneath highly biodiverse land or areas performing key environmental services such as CO2 storage. Governments are increasingly recognising the importance of placing such lands under special protection by establishing protected areas. Depending on the strength of protection, mining activities cannot take place on such sites, or they must adapt to minimise any impact on them.

The UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) hosts the Protected Planet platform, offering the most complete world dataset on protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). Explore the protected areas in MDNP partner countries.

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The project MINLAND, funded by the EU, collated 14 good practices from European countries for integrating mining into land use planning and based on these, issued a Final Manual for Good Practice Guidance.

 

Mine closure and liabilities

When mines reach the end of their productive life, closure and post-closure must ensure that no environmental liabilities remain, and especially that tailings storage facilities remain safe long after closure. As far as possible, rehabilitation and reclamation should allow the development of other productive activities on the former mine site.

Closure planning is a key element of mining development, right from the conceptualisation of a mine. “Latin American governments are moving away from relying on mining companies to follow best practices on mine closure toward developing national legislation to ensure compliance.” The IGF report Case Study: Mine Closure Policies in South America presents cases that outline what constitutes good mine closure policies in South America, with a focus on Chile and Peru.

You can find information on the specific policies and initiatives implemented by partner countries of the EU-Latin America Partnership on Raw Materials in each country’s Country Fiche.

Go to the Library to find more publications on experiences in managing mine closure and post-closure.

In the EU, EU Directive 2006/21/EC regulates the management of waste from extractive industries (prospecting, extraction, treatment and storage of mineral resources, and from quarrying). Find out more about the so-called extractive waste directive.

In 2019, also in response to the Brumadinho tailings dam disaster, the ICMM, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) launched the Global Tailings Review to develop an international standard on tailings storage facilities. In early 2020, the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management was launched, striving to achieve the goal of zero harm to people and the environment. The standard includes 15 principles and 77 auditable requirements.

The Global Tailings Portal collates information disclosed by mining companies worldwide about their tailings storage facilities. Explore tailings storage facilities in MDNP partner countries, their operators, storage volume, height and age.

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A salient issue are mining environmental liabilities – installations, effluents, emissions, remains or residue deposits produced by ongoing, abandoned or inactive mining operations that can pose a potential risk to the safety and health of people and to the environment. Abandoned mining sites without adequate environmental protection conditions are particularly challenging, as no entity responsible for its management can be found and the State must step in.

Explore the Comparative study of positive experiences of managing mining liabilities (Spanish), published by the regional cooperation programme for responsible management of mineral resources (MinSus), to learn about cases from Latin America and Europe.

The TRACER project, funded by the EU, supports coal-intensive regions around Europe in their Research and Innovation strategies for their transition towards a sustainable energy system. The report Best practice report on environmental protection and post-mining land reclamation incorporates experience of post-mining land reclamation from former coal mine sites in Europe. This can be useful for Latin American coal producing countries that need to design their own transitions.

 

Energy consumption for mining

Energy consumption is the mining industry’s main source of CO2 emissions and is therefore an area requiring urgent action to curb Climate Change. Mining companies can significantly reduce their carbon footprint by scaling up their energy efficiency and replacing fossil fuels with electricity from renewable energy sources.

The GIZ and Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment have reviewed how the global mining sector has integrated renewable energy – especially from wind and solar power. Their report Renewable energy in mining (Spanish) contains case examples from Brazil and Chile, among other countries.

Latin American countries are making progress with regard to the energy efficiency of their mining sectors. As many countries have national regulation on energy efficiency, their sectors are adjusting to them. In its report The water and energy efficiency in mining processes (Spanish), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Carribean (ECLAC) has identified good practices in Chile and Peru.

 

Mining and climate change

Mining plays a key role in curbing Climate Change. The mining sector accounts for up to 11 percent of global energy use, and by reducing its CO2 footprint, it could significantly contribute to emission reduction targets. The sector will also produce the mineral resources needed for the low energy transformation of global energy and transport systems.

In its 2020 report Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition, the World Bank Group estimates the increase in demand for the minerals necessary for clean energy technologies. To achieve the 2°C target, production of minerals such as graphite, lithium and cobalt could increase by nearly 500% by 2050. But base metals will also be more in demand, as copper production could reach 29 million tons by 2050.

The mining sector is also vulnerable to the Climate Crisis. In Latin America, mines are often located in areas that will increasingly be more vulnerable to extreme weather events due to Climate Change. Thus, the mining sector must not only mitigate but also adapt to Climate Change.

The IISD lists five ways in which governments can support the sector in taking action on Climate Change.